Gongol.com Archives: February 2015

Brian Gongol

February 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet The FCC's version of "net neutrality"
Companies will be prohibited from favoring some traffic over others, and basically will serve to regulate Internet access like a public utility, like landline telephone service. The problem is that most places don't have a lot of options for broadband Internet access right now, so we pay too much and get far too little speed compared to what's offered in other rich countries. And some of the incumbent providers have been bullies, creeps, and just all-out jerks to their customers. Lots of people really, really hate Comcast and Time Warner. But the hazard here is that the regulation that people want to impose on those companies (perhaps to prevent them from misbehaving) may also have the effect of entrenching the interests of those companies that are already large. That's usually the outcome of additional regulation -- to further consolidate the interests of the incumbents, even if they bristle at the regulation itself. And they're definitely not happy -- Verizon posted a protest message in Morse code (with a translation that looks like a 1950s typewritten memo, fretting about the FCC's move to "adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana". And that's the problem: Some sort of rulemaking power may have been necessary to prevent anticompetitive abuses by Internet service providers, given that there are so few of them today. But the sledgehammer approach adopted by the divided FCC commissioners (who voted 3-2) is very likely to make it hard for new entrants to get into the business and introduce the competition that consumers really want after all.

Science and Technology Google is putting $300 million into a fund to build residential solar power
It's part of a $750 million fund being spun up by a company called SolarCity that provides solar power as a service rather than a homeowner investment. Google gets tax breaks and good publicity out of the deal. This follows an $848 million investment in solar power by Apple earlier this month. Considering that energy is one of the very top expenses for companies like Apple and Google, it's no surprise they're actively interested in the market. That, and it's difficult for both companies to find other ways to invest internally for good returns. The successes of the past for both companies are exactly zero guarantee of future profits.

Computers and the Internet Hedge-fund manager is starting a unit to be run by artificial intelligence
Bloomberg says that Bridgewater Associates will use trading algorithms run by computers that are supposed to learn and evolve. It's smart to create and follow rational guidelines (or rules, or in a computing sense, codes) -- but it's also important to have human comprehension about why those rules are in place and when it makes sense to override them. There's a reason we say "the exception that proves the rule". Artificial intelligence may be helpful at identifying opportunity and could certainly be used as an enhancement for lots of decisions (including financial ones, just like it can enhance medical and engineering decisions), but this kind of gambit tends to get out of hand quickly in the financial world. LTCM collapsed while being run by some of the smartest people in money.

Health Fixing some colorblindness with special glasses

Science and Technology American Meteorological Society deserves credit for consistency of principles
The group is criticizing the efforts of a Democratic member of Congress to witch-hunt some university researchers who have been prominent skeptics about climate change. The group, while predominantly composed of people who tend to believe that humans have played at least some role in causing climate change, is standing on the principle that political witch-hunts have a "chilling" effect on research. Good for them. It's easy to say we would stand up for the rights of those with whom we disagree; it's another thing to actually do it.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 28, 2015
Streaming live on WHORadio.com at 1:00 Central Time

Computers and the Internet Good reason to hold your applause on the FCC's net-neutrality ruling
The Omaha World-Herald puts it well: "Few will know the real costs of net neutrality rules until the FCC makes public the more than 300-page regulation that it passed without releasing the document first to the public."